Maddy Moore: Landmark court ruling declares housing benefit discrimination is unlawful
Maddy Moore responds to Shelter’s successful court case against blanket bans on renting properties to people on housing benefit.
Right now, hundreds of thousands of renters are facing discrimination when looking for a home. They’re being locked out of properties they could otherwise afford – simply because they receive housing benefit.
For a long time, letting agents and landlords have been putting in place so-called ‘no DSS’, ‘no benefits’, or ‘no Universal Credit’ policies to prevent renters who receive housing benefit from accessing homes.
But this week we have received official confirmation of a landmark court ruling declaring housing benefit discrimination unlawful, marking a huge breakthrough for our End DSS Discrimination campaign.
An historic hearing
Housing benefit discrimination has been confirmed as unlawful in a landmark court ruling.
At the historic hearing at York County Court involving Shelter client Jane*, ‘no DSS’ discrimination was declared unlawful, meaning letting agents and private landlords will have to drive out old discriminatory practices for good.
District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark confirmed that rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit is unlawfully indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability, and contrary to sections 19 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010.
Discrimination and the Equality Act
Under the Equality Act, it is unlawful to indirectly discriminate based on things like gender, disability or race. ‘No DSS’, ‘no benefits’ or ‘no Universal Credit’ policies breach the act via indirect discrimination, as they disproportionately harm women and disabled people, who are more likely to receive housing benefit.
This court ruling has confirmed what we have been arguing – that anyone who seeks to exclude renters receiving housing benefit is not just acting unjustly, but unlawfully too.
A win in the courts
This is the first time that a UK court has fully considered a case like this.
Shelter has been fighting to end DSS discrimination for nearly two years, and we have been involved in several other ‘no DSS’ cases. These all settled at an early stage, with each letting agent agreeing to change their practices and offering apologies and compensation to our clients.
We’ve been pleased to see the changes that these individual letting agents have made, but to bring about widespread change across the private rented sector – and be able to help others who have experienced housing benefit discrimination in the future – we wanted a judge to make a formal ruling on a case.
That’s the difference with ‘Jane’s’ case. It’s the first time a UK court has declared it unlawful to discriminate against someone because they receive housing benefit.
Jane turned to Shelter for help when a letting agent refused to rent any properties to her because of a company policy not to accept tenants receiving housing benefit.
Jane is a hard-working single mum who lives with a disability. She had rented privately for 10 years, always paying her rent in full and on time, and has great references from her former landlords. She was able to pay her deposit and rent in advance due to her parents lending her money, which she was able to pay back to them – and she had a guarantor.
When her landlord served her with a Section 21 ‘no-fault’ eviction notice, she needed to find a new home. She saw a suitable, affordable property and applied to rent it, but the letting agents refused to consider her application – telling her that ‘for years’ they ‘have had a policy of not accepting housing benefit tenants’. She and her children were left homeless as a result. Jane told us:
I hope I’ll have helped people who aren’t able to be as determined as me. I’m like a dog with a bone. It’s the principle. It’s completely unfair to treat people like this, and I hope this will prove that letting agents can’t do this and prove they can’t discriminate.
This landmark ruling will make a difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of private renters across the country like Jane, who receive housing benefit and have been facing discrimination when looking for a home.
We know the ‘no DSS’, ‘no benefits’ and ‘no Universal Credit’ policies are widespread, and that what Jane experienced is not a one-off occurrence. A 2020 YouGov survey found that 63% of private landlords either operate an outright ban on letting to tenants receiving housing benefit or say they prefer not to let to this group.
But this ruling means that letting agents and private landlords will have to drive out old discriminatory practices for good, so that renters who receive housing benefit are no longer barred from renting any privately rented properties.
We’ve seen how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to huge financial hardship, with hundreds of thousands of people losing work and urgently in need of support – including housing benefit – to help them pay their rent.
Given the huge rise in the numbers of people receiving housing benefit due to the pandemic, we’re concerned that many more renters will be coming up against DSS discrimination.
So, this ruling could not have come at a better time. It will make a huge difference to the lives of many private renters who are relying on housing benefit to keep their head above water.
What happens next?
Finally, we have formal clarification that DSS discrimination is unlawful. This win is what we need to end it for good.
Now that it has been proven in the courts, we’ll be doubling up our efforts to end housing benefit discrimination for good – and make sure letting agents are complying with the ruling.
Watch the video below to hear more about what’s happened from Rose Arnall, the Shelter solicitor
- Maddy Moore is a senior campaigner at Shelter